CONNECTIONS WINTER 2018
iChallengeU to PBL
Ask any Holland Christian teacher who participated in an OAISD summer project-based learning (PBL) experience this past summer why they took the class, and you’re going to hear a common refrain. Something like, “It’s a program that I had heard really great things about, and I wanted to see if there were ways to plug in project based learning into my kind of classes,” according to Katelyn Roskamp, HCMS Spanish teacher.
Or, “I know kids learn best by doing,” said Kim VanderZwaag, 4th grade teacher at Rose Park. “I’m always on the lookout for new and upcoming teaching methods that actually work, and I had heard rave reviews about this.”
It seems everyone who did it, loved it. Plus we’re seeing the program transforming education here at Holland Christian in a very positive way.
Project based learning, or PBL, is a current forward-thinking teaching method that allows students to explore real-world problems and challenges, typically creating a more active and engaged learner who is inspired to dig deeper into the subject they’re studying. It’s a slower, more drawn out method of learning that uses the teacher mainly as a facilitator, but a method where “the kids own the work,” says VanderZwaag.
In PBL, students start with a challenge to problem solve—often a local community issue—work through a series of programmed steps together to find potential solutions, research the ramifications of the solutions, and then present publicly their final solution choice.
“It’s certainly more engaging, student led; it gives them a sense of ownership,” said Eena Davis, RP 6th grade teacher. “You have to let students make mistakes, trust the process. It turns the learning adventure into a quest, and kids get excited about quests.”
You have to let students make mistakes, trust the process. It turns the learning adventure into a quest, and kids get excited about quests.
Sounds cool, right? But how do you teach teachers who have been teaching several years already, who learned a different style of teaching back in college how to teach in this exciting manner? Even new teachers fresh out of college don’t always have the method down by any means. That’s why we’re so fortunate to have the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s (OAISD) Future PREP’d ichallengeU program in our town.
Started originally by Jason Pasatta with the OAISD, iChallengeU is a two-week summer educational opportunity for local teachers to work with 11th and 12th-grade students in developing solutions to real problems posed by area businesses, civic and community partners. Two teachers are given a handful of students, and after they learn the 21st Century Skills as laid out by the OAISD, they are paired with an area business to solve a specific problem for them over the two weeks. Past problems have included what should Continental Dairy do with excess water left after milk processing, how can HCMS create a more welcoming environment, what can Haworth do with leftover scrap material so they are a zero waste facility, or how can Ottawa County best handle the issue of truancy?
If you enter RP 6th grade teacher Eena Davis’ science classroom, you might wonder about the rock “village” that lines her counter—they’re the painted rock friends that are driving their geology research, to figure out the history of their exact type of rock; instead of just memorizing geological structures and facts, they’re applying them to create the story of their rock characters. They even use bits and pieces of the PBL thinking in Karen Strikwerda’s South Side kindergarten class. And 7th grade math students just finished a whole carnival of PBL cardboard games that they created to study probability, all while interacting with Pine Ridge 3rd graders.
PBL is behind a lot of the high school Winterim classes like Anna Boorsma’s Rube Goldberg Machines so that she is tying in local engineering experts into the weeklong class, trying to figure out how to plug the students’ creations into the larger Holland community. Josh Rumpsa’s Social Work Winterim class, called “Foster Love,” also plugs into the local community in a fashion taught him through PBL.